Jun 122012

Update: I am adding the raw data file, which features details on what information bits each local business directory researched allows to be added. You can download it from here.

In the past two parts of my study dedicated to local citation building I looked at important niche citation sources, and at the prominence factor for determining which business directories might be the most trustworthy. In this part I will look into another factor that is taken into account by Google when determining the value of a local citation - the completeness, or plenitude of the incoming business data. The text in the “Generating Structured Information” patent, which is the basis of the clustering system related to the local business data Google generates and represents in local search, says the following:

…Likewise, facts within sets of facts that provide more information than other sets of facts can be assigned a greater weight.

This means that if business directory X allows you to input more additional information (other than the business name, address, phone number, and category), it might be more valuable and a more trustworthy citation source than business directory Y, which allows you to input just basic business data.

The Study

I looked into 25 of the most prominent local business directories (according to the second part of the local citation building study) and checked what information each one of them allows for a business to add. The enhanced data “facts” that I looked for primarily were: description, website, email, images, video, hours, specialties, year established, payment types, ability to add links to social profiles, claimability, languages spoken. If the business directory offered anything over these, that was marked as “additional” information. For each “fact” a directory allowed to be added, it was given 1 point. In case this fact was available only to paid customers, the business directory was given 0.5 points. If the listing was claimable only via phone, the directory was also assigned 0.5 points.

The Results

Directory Score
manta.com 13
local.yahoo.com 11
expressupdateusa.com 11
chamberofcommerce.com 11
yellowpages.com 10.5
local.com 10.5
botw.org 10.5
superpages.com 10
thumbtack.com 10
kudzu.com 10
yellowbook.com 9.5
citysearch.com 9
insiderpages.com 9
hotfrog.com 9
yelp.com 8.5
angieslist.com 8
merchantcircle.com 8
brownbook.net 8
magicyellow.com 8
whitepages.com 7
yellowbot.com 5.5
bridgat.com 5
citysquares.com 5
localeze.com 4.5
bbb.org 3

Manta.com is the obvious winner. The website has an algorithm that ranks businesses in their internal search results based on the completeness of the business profile. The scale is from 0% to 100%, but the maximum that can be achieved via a free listing is 95% completeness (the “add keywords” option is unavailable). The site also has the biggest number of “additional information” information points available (other than the ones expressly stated above), together with Thumbtack.com.

Local.com and local.BOTW.org also allow for a big number of enhanced business information to be added to their local listings. However, in many cases this option is available only for paid customers, which slightly decreases their overall scores. If you have budget for advertising on local business directories, I’d suggest you consider paid listings on these two. (Note: I am not affiliated in any way with any of these websites.)

Localeze.com and Citysquares.com are very low in the rankings although they also allow for a significant amount of enhanced information to be added. Unfortunately, both websites provide this option only for paying businesses, which significantly decreases their scores. In their free packages they both offer only very basic business data to be added - business name, address, phone number, and one category. They offer very reasonably priced paid listings and they might be a good fit for a business that would like to gain more from their local citation building campaign. (Note: I am not affiliated in any way with any of these websites.)

Remark: As part of our citation building service we take the value of each citation source into account. One of the factors we use is the data points each directory allows for as described in this study.

*Note: Our Citation Building Guide features more information, tips, and tactics on how to do local citation building.

  12 Responses to “Local Citation Building Study Part 3: Plenitude of the Business Data”

Comments (12)
  1. Wow, this is great. I manually do our citation building and started to keep track of the top 20, what you get for free. For example, Angieslist now lets you add a logo and 3 photos. If you want to add more photos, you need to upgrade.

    Most all of the local business directories entice users with the free listing and then have upgrades with more perks to make their money. I notice MapQuest is not listed - probably not in the top 25. I really like their directory listing - It’s easy to add your content and you get to add a good amount for free.

    This is an excellent study - I need to go back for Part 1 & 2.

    Thank you!

    • Hey Susan, thanks for the comment and feedback!

      Yes, I decided not to include MapQuest, because of the way they are treating the free listings. The verification process is purposefully greatly slowed down and everything is done for the core purpose of pushing you towards purchasing the paid listing. I’ve also had problems with their customer service (slash) sales force, so it is a conscious decision.

      And you are right, most of the directories nowadays are using this tactic of adding functionality for the paid listings. Some are doing it right, some are not, imho. Additionally, I think ALL of them are not really communication very well the importance of having a listing that has more information on it.

  2. Hey Nyagoslav,

    This is excellent. Not only a great post, but an important morsel in it: a fairly direct confirmation by Google that, yes, those extra fields on third-party sites are very much worth filling out. I’ve noticed that in practice, and it’s always seemed to help the creation of “At a glance” snippets, but it’s nice to hear a grunt of approval from the horse’s mouth.

    I’m a bit unclear on your methodology in assigning point values to each site. It seems to me that not each piece of additional information would be as closely looked-at and equally weighted by Google – and that therefore it might be difficult to say that each bit of info is worth a point (assuming one can fill it out without having to pay, in which case it’s worth 0.5 points). Of course, I know it’s basically impossible to know which bits of info Google weights more heavily than others, but it seems to me that a site that asks for (let’s say) a description would be “worth” almost as much as a site that asks for (example) a description, payment types, and hours. Under this weighting system, though, the site that only has a description field would be “worth” only one-third as much as the other.

    IMHO, one way to make this post even more awesome than it already is – which is a tall order – might be to make a spreadsheet that compares the sites side by side, with an “X” next to each “additional-info field” that each site allows you to fill out. Kind of like those comparison charts where you see all the features of the “Basic” versus “Deluxe” versus “Platinum” whatevers literally stacked up side-by-side.

    Also, I’m not 100% sure why business categories aren’t included. Is it just because every site (at least that I can think of) asks you to specify at least one category – and that therefore categories might already be considered “structured” info?

    Thanks for the great post!

    • Hey Phil, thanks for the awesome input and questions!

      Let me try to “tackle” these great topics one by one. The points system is more based on evaluating the directories as they are, rather than evaluating what they might be. What I mean by this is that if site X allows you for free to add 10 data points, and site Y allows you to add 8 data points for free + 4 more if you pay, then it is very much possible that a paying client for site Y is going to take more value from the particular citation. However, he would have to pay for this. That is why the “rankings” are tailored to fit more to the usability point of view, rather than the overall potential usefulness. That is why only in cases when one should pay to get some information, or when they should get a phone call to claim a listing, I am assigning 0.5 points.

      Regarding the difference in importance of the specific bits of info, I would agree with you that it is very possible that a description of 500 words (for instance) might be much more important than payment types. But according to Google’s patent, which is the only real source of clue we have, it is not so. According to this patent every data piece is equally important from trustworthiness POV.

      I actually have this table done (although it is with “Yes”‘s and “No”‘s rather than X’s and 0’s), but I decided not to post it because it will flood the screen imho. If you are interested, I can send it to you right away. I was thinking of also uploading it on my domain and linking directly to the file. What do you think about this?

      I didn’t include business categories, because together with N.A.P. this is the fourth very important “holy” factor which cannot be missing in any case. And it is also true that there is no directory which does not allow for categories to be added. However, it might be a source of idea for a new article that would include the number of categories each site allows to be added. Or maybe an addition to this one? :) Let’s see how this might work.

      Thanks again Phil!

  3. Hey Nyagoslav,

    Thanks for the extra insights!

    Yeah, I definitely think it would be cool to see the spreadsheet. I’m sure you could just upload it as a PDF and have the link in the post or something – I know I have to do that every now and then.

    Still not sure how “According to this patent every data piece is equally important from trustworthiness POV” comes out of the excerpt you cited from the patent. But then again, you took the time to read the whole patent while I sat around eating ice cream :) So I’m sure you saw something I didn’t.

    But I see what you mean about categories; that’s what I thought was the case. A site-by-site comparison of categories would definitely be a good post – and fairly evergreen, too, because it’s not like those sites change every few months, the way Google does.

    To go slightly off-topic, I actually had an idea some time ago for an “InfoGroup Category Tool,” which would be just like Mike B’s tool for Google categories. I think that would be handy, because InfoGroup’s category-selection interface is a bit clunky – but it’s such an important site. (I contacted them a while ago, didn’t hear back, and just put it into the “someday” file.)

    Can’t wait for Local Citation Building Part 4!

    • Hey Phil, thanks for the kind words once again!

      So here is what the whole paragraph of the patent says:

      “In some embodiments, the fact comparison module 324 uses a weighting process to distinguish between conflicting facts and/or favor facts from certain sources. The weighting process can, for example, assign a greater weight to a more recent fact and a lesser weight to a less recent, conflicting fact. In addition, facts from more trustworthy sources can be assigned greater weight than other facts. Likewise, facts within sets of facts that provide more information than other sets of facts can be assigned a greater weight. A partial and/or non-normalized fact that lacks a confidence level can have a weight assigned based on the source of the fact, the number of other facts within the same set, and/or other criteria. In one embodiment, facts with low confidence levels and/or weights are discarded.”

      What this means is that if there is a website that features some business information X, and another website that features business information X’ (for the same business), Google would have to assign different value depending on the source and other variables described. One of these variables is the number of “facts”. It adds more trust to the information source. As the last sentence states, in some cases if the “facts” are with low confidence level, they might be completely ignored, i.e. plain listings featuring just name, address, phone, especially coming from lower quality websites might not be taken into consideration.

      The patent itself doesn’t mention anything about making difference between “facts”, so that is why in my research I also didn’t make such difference. Although it’s very logical that such exists.

      I will be adding the PDF in a few :)

      It would be truly great if someone could come up with a categories tool for ALL websites. I think Localeze have the biggest database of categories actually. It’s always a pain in the neck to find the most suitable ones, because each site has their own terminology and ordering…

      The fourth part will be up in just a few days, hopefully ;)

  4. Nyagoslav, Phil: Neat discussion. I put a caveat on the patent descriptions. The language of all these patents often comes with descriptions that include words such as “can be assigned” as in the patent above. Most of the patent language around all the patents have that type of qualifying language.

    Google’s patents give us hints but they aren’t cast in stone with regard to the hints. Even if the hint to a certain factor might be applied we don’t know the “weight” of that factor. Of course the best thing to do is to test test test. Even after we test..suppose google takes its 25-75 factors and simply assigns different weights to the importance of factors.

    Ugh ugh ugh. but I’ve seen cases where the “can” type language went into full practice.

    Its a powerful hint to follow the patent language. I’m not going to say though that its always 100% applicable. I think google is always 3 or 4 steps ahead of us and its competitors.

    Still the patents are terrific eyes into what they might be doing, or are likely doing.

    nice work, Nyagoslav

  5. @Nyagoslav

    Very interesting stuff. To me, this means a lot of things, but one of them is: make dead-certain that (1) your profiles on the BIG sites (InfoGroup, LocalEze, Yelp, SuperPages) have more than just your basic business info, and that (2) all that extra info is consistent (e.g., try to use the same “keywords” and “tags” fields from site to site). Yet another clue in favor of a “quality over quantity” approach to citation-building, IMHO.

    Thanks for uploading that PDF – very cool.

    Obviously you saw my new post with the complete list LocalEze categories (partly inspired by your suggestion) :)


    Good call on the “wiggle words.” It’s kind of like when Coke lists “Natural flavors” in the ingredients on the can.

  6. Phil: Sorry, I didn’t mean that in the context of “wiggle” words that google applies to its patents. I mean testing in a different context.

    For example I’ve been following Bill Slawski’s writings on patents for a long time and have tested some of the findings over time.

    In some cases the patent application was clearly obvious and huge. In a different case I saw a real application and effectiveness in some cases but not others…and I think there might be some insights…but it would require still more testing. Bill just posted a patent on local intent.

    That is an interesting one. I noticed its impact over 1 year ago. I could trace the impact to 2010. Bill had noticed it’s impact earlier. I discussed it with him last year with different hypotheses why it might be showing. Google issued the patent in 2010 and just published it this month.

    The patent ascribes certain possibilities that can send signals to Google about local intent for different phrases. Local websites might benefit from that. The factors that apply to the patent could be broader than what the patent itself describes.

    In any case to really get a fix on these things I think one has to test, test test. Its not just the “wiggly language” its the application that counts.

  7. I’m not sure if anyone is still monitoring or updating this post, but I just wanted to add a note that local.com no longer has free listings. They have some incredibly misleading text that gives the impression you can still get a free listing, but its just meant to funnel you into Yext’s marketing system. A head’s up for anyone working on citation building.

    • Hi Alex,

      Thanks for your comment. Actually there is a workaround to get a free listing on Local.com. I mentioned about that in a recent article of mine. However (again, as mentioned in the article), I would not share it publicly, because such workarounds tend to be abused. I could share it with you if you drop me an email.

  8. Hi Alex - great study - please forward the instructions on setting up a local.com free listing.


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